Quebec Premier François Legault had one message for Quebecers Tuesday: it is time to learn to live with the virus.
“The population is fed up. I’m fed up. We’re all fed up,” he said. “But the reason we resisted [easing restrictions] until today was because there was too much risk.”
“Right now, we can take a calculated risk and finally turn the page.”
Legault announced that most of the province’s restrictions will be lifted by mid-March, though mandatory mask mandates and the vaccine passport will remain — at least for now.
It’s the latest in a series of reopening announcements, as the province steadily backs away from the mass shutdowns put in place in December due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Legault said that hospitalizations in the province have gone down by more than 1,000 patients in the last few weeks, giving the health network enough breathing room to now attempt a gradual reopening.
When asked if the recent convoy protest in Quebec City influenced his decision to reopen, Legault said it had not.
“But if they want to take credit and not come back in two weeks, I wouldn’t be opposed to that,” he said.
Step-by-step guide to reopening
Home gatherings will no longer have any restrictions as of this Saturday, Feb. 12, though public health recommends having at most 10 people present, or three households.
“It will be up to each person to evaluate the risk,” Legault said. “How many people am I with? How many got their third dose? How many are over 60 — what risk am I ready to take?”
WATCH | Premier François Legault outlines his plan to reopen:
In addition, restaurants will also be allowed to accommodate a maximum of 10 people per table as of Saturday. Currently, only four people, or two households, are allowed to sit together at a restaurant.
Organized sports matches, like hockey, will be allowed to resume as of Monday, Feb. 14. Gyms and spas, as previously announced, will also be allowed to open on that date. Legault said that tournaments, however, will only be allowed to restart two weeks later, on Feb. 28.
As of Feb. 21, all retail businesses will be allowed to reopen at full capacity. Places of worship will remain at 50 per cent capacity, but with a maximum of 500 people.
As of Feb. 28, working from home will no longer be mandatory for those with jobs where that is possible. Large venues, like Montreal’s Bell Centre, will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity.
Bars, which have been closed since Dec. 20, will also be allowed to reopen as of Feb. 28. They will have to operate at 50 per cent capacity, with last call for alcohol at midnight and a closing time of 1 a.m. Dancing and karaoke will remain banned until March 14.
Also on March 14, restaurants, bars and large venues like the Bell Centre and Videotron Centre will be allowed to operate at full capacity.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said there are no plans to lift mandatory mask mandates and the province’s vaccine passport, but did not rule out repealing them on or after March 14.
Dubé did not provide a timeline for when the vaccine passport would require a third dose, as previously announced.
Legault said that 63 per cent of adults in the province have received a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Easing restrictions is ‘reasonable’
Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal epidemiologist and cardiologist, said it makes sense for the government to ease restrictions now.
“As the situation improves, it is reasonable to loosen restrictions and to allow people to do more things, especially now that many people have gotten their third dose and have a good deal of protection against the virus,” he said.
While Labos said he’s optimistic about the future of the pandemic right now, he said he hopes the government is willing to shift gears if the situation changes on the ground.
“Learning to live with the virus doesn’t mean ignoring the virus,” he said. “We can learn to live with the virus, but still also monitor the situation and take appropriate steps when things seem to get better or get worse.”
Benoit Barbeau, a virologist in the department of biological sciences at the Université du Québec à Montréal, agreed that it is time.
“People will hopefully continue getting the third dose. We have now antivirals which are available. But what is the most important element that will help us, I think, is that we’re slowly going toward the spring,” he said.
Barbeau said the situation is favourable for an easing of restrictions, and based on the experiences of the United Kingdom and South Africa, will likely continue to be favourable post-Omicron.
“I think that we were close to a tipping point, in terms of how much confidence the population has toward the government and how much how much they’re ready to continue in maintaining and following those restrictions,” he said.
“The government had to propose a way out.”
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